Holocaust: The Destruction Process Essay, Research Paper
During the period from the early 1930’s to the mid 40’s, the Jews in Germany, Poland, and throughout Europe faced intense discrimination from the Nazis. Starting with boycotts and pogroms, the Nazis proceeded to institute legislation against the Jews with the Nuremberg Laws. Institution of ghettos began in the late 1930’s. A climate of hostility against Jews had been methodically and relentlessly established. The Holocaust was a systematic destruction process, which, in a very rational, bureaucratic and almost scientific fashion, developed the way for expropriation of property, suppression of rights, and ultimately for extermination camps.
From a legal point of view, the first years of the Nazis in power were very important. Nazi propaganda started with the first phase of the destruction process: defamation. Nazis began to erase the rights of Jews and other party enemies soon after Hitler became Chancellor in January of 1933. To be more specific, on March 23, 1933, the Enabling Act was passed, a law authorizing the government to issue legislation, even if that legislation deviated from the Reich constitution. One example of this legislation is a series of laws that were created for banning “non-Aryans” from civil service, the legal, medical, and dental professions, teaching positions, cultural and entertainment enterprises, and the press. (The Law for the restoration of the Professional Civil Service, A Holocaust Reader, Dawidowicz, p. 35). On September 15, 1935, at the party rally, the Nuremberg Laws were announced. ?A Reich citizen is only that subject of German or kindred blood? (Reich Citizen Law of 1935). Therefore, Jews no longer were German citizens; they were subjects. In order to protect the ?German Blood and German Honor?, they were forbidden to marry ?Aryans? and forbidden to fly the Reich and national flags (Protection of German Blood and German Honor of 1935). The testimonies of Ruth Kent, a Holocaust survivor, show how these decrees affected her life and changed it right away. She says,
??Every day they came out with different laws and orders, we had a curfew, we could only be seen between 9:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon?. We had to wear a yellow star on the chest and on my back?they took away all our lawyers, our writers, our teachers, our clergy, and I could not go to school anymore?they took away our rabbis and we couldn’t go to synagogues anymore.?
Her experiences reflect the systematic succession of steps towards social and economic isolation. This procedure was repeated almost identically in every city that fell under the Nazi control.
Supporting the idea of a rational and systematic process, Dawidowicz holds that the next cycle of anti-Jewish legislation came in 1938 and was synchronized with Hitler?s plans for war (A Holocaust Reader, p. 37). After the annexation of Austria, Jewish children were banned from school, Jewish families were ordered to assess and report their domestic and foreign property. This is the first law (Decree Regarding the Reporting of Jewish Property of 1938) in a law set that is part of the second phase of this destruction process: expropriation. These facts show how in consecutive steps, the Jewish community was separated politically, socially, and legally from the Germans while at the same time they were crowded into ghettos. This is the process that Hilberg calls ghettoization.
The ?ghettoization? is also part of the third phase of the destruction process: concentration. Hilberg points out that the ghettoization of the Jewish community (i.e., the isolation from the surrounding German population) was directed, systematically, by the bureaucracy. He identifies five steps by means of which the ghettos were taking shape. These steps were: (1) the severance of social contacts between Jews and Germans, (2) housing restriction, (3) movement regulations, (4) identification measures, and (5) the institution of Jewish administrative machinery (The Destruction of the European Jews, Hilberg, p 41). Anti-mixing decrees constituted the first phase of the ghettoization process aimed to a social separation. Physical isolation (institution of ghettos) did not begin until 1940.
World War II was precipitated by Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, which brought under the Third Reich’s control a population of nearly 1.3 million Jews. Ghettoization and/or concentration camps were a direct consequence because they needed a way to deal with these new Jews. In addition, according to Dawidowicz, the planning of the Final Solution was synchronized with the plans for the invasion of Poland. Therefore, this leads one to think that ghettoization after the invasion of Poland was a previously planned and logical step towards the Final Solution. Dawidowicz continues ? Hitler had already decided that the actual mass murder of the Jews would take place on those territories [Poland and Soviet Union]? (p.55). However, this is controversial among the literature. Hilberg claims that ?on November 29, 1941, he [Heydrich] sent invitations to a number of Staatssekret?re and chief of SS main offices for a ?Final Solution? conference (The Destruction of the European Jews, p164.) The institution of ghettos was a transitional measure, but the transition did not lead to emigration. It led to annihilation (The Destruction of the European Jews, Hilberg, p 41). The synchronization that Dawidowicz is referring to, demonstrates that the destruction process was not a set of isolated events, but a logical sequence of actions, one after the other, all of them pointing in the same direction: ?to solve the Jewish question.?
Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,? took place throughout Germany and Austria on the night of November 10, 1938. It was a nation-wide organized pogrom where hundreds of synagogues were burned, thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed, almost one hundred Jews were killed, and between twenty-six and thirty thousand Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht marked a dramatic change in the policy of the Nazis toward the Jews of Germany and Austria. Ever since Hitler’s accession to power, the Jews, by law, had been deprived of their status as citizens (Reich Citizen Law of 1935), by law, had been separated from civil service (Restoration of civil Service of 1933), by law, forbidden to marry Germans (Protection of German Blood and German Honor of 1935), and by law had been subjected to increasingly harsh measures of social and economic isolation. Now this had changed. Jews were beaten on the streets, arrested in ?protective custody,? and taken to concentration camps. Although Kristallnacht is frequently considered the beginning of the Holocaust, it is wrong. However, even when Kristallnacht is not part of the destruction process, it is a very important turning point in the violence against Jews.
Within months of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the Dachau concentration camp was created. According to the Nazis, one of the purposes of Dachau was ?re-education.? Anybody who was in prison there was in a rescue operation to bring him back to the community. Dachau was administered in a harsh and deadly fashion. Victims were any dissidents: clergymen, communist, some Jews, Jehovah?s Witness, etc. ?Re-education? was a bureaucratic euphemism like ?special treatment? or ?special handling? was for shooting and gassing. Nazis never said killing: they were trying to maintain this fiction even in their own minds. The first commandant of the Dachau Concentration Camp was Theodor Eicke. Under his command, the camp would become the model camp for all future SS concentration camps. The Dachau camp served as a training school for officers who would later become commanders of the new concentration camps. Rudolph Hoess and Adolph Eichmann trained under Eicke at Dachau. Eicke was arrogant, paranoid, impulsive, and a methodological killer, iron discipline, power, and obedience were his nature (Class notes, July 17). One more time, these characteristics, especially methodological and discipline fit perfectly with the conception of the Holocaust as a bureaucratic massive process. Prisoners were dangerous sub-humans that had to be treated with maximum rigidity, zero tolerance. Any trace of weakness was unworthy of an SS man.
Key to the camp was not only discipline but a system of regulations: what happened if you step over the line, what happened if you get closer to a guard, what happened if a guard mistreated a prisoner, etc. It was a system of regulations for the administration and maintenance of discipline and order. Reason for punishment had to be crystal clear; guards were subject to penalties also (Class notes, July 17). Everything was prescribed through regulation manuals, through the Dachau Training books. With this multiform bureaucracy, Dachau became the model for concentration camps. According to Dr. Bolkosky, here is when the union of a potentially violent ideology and the reality of its implementation occurred. Ideology met real world. Racist fanaticism met bureaucratic efficiency (class notes, July 17). This strict order and the detailed written set of regulations reveal up to what point the bureaucracy was involved in the extermination, which was the fourth phase in the destruction process. No details were left out with respect to when, who and how to punish either prisoners or guards. No doubt that, in order to kill six million Jews, an ideology of racial cleansing is not enough. It needs a structure behind supporting it; this structure was the wide range, complex, almost scientific bureaucracy. Hilberg in The Destruction of European Jews (p.100) claims that the Holocaust was a destruction process. Then he continues to define a destruction process as ?a series of administrative measures that must be aimed at a definite group? (p. 27). Therefore, his central thesis is that the destruction of the European Jews was “an administrative process? carried out by bureaucrats in offices, by desktop murderers. The bureaucracy of the machinery of destruction was divided into four independent components or hierarchies -civil service, army, industrial complex, and Nazi party-. Again, this shows how complex and wide-ranging the organization was. Hilberg continues, ??In the inexorable development of the process, every segment of organized German society was drawn into the destructive work? (p. 100). Reinforcing the idea of systematic destruction, he points out ?the killing operation was standardized. In every city the same procedure was followed with minor variations? (p. 126). A head of the Judenrat in Budapest, Rudolph Kastner, watched how Jews disappeared in Germany, then in Poland, then in Yugoslavia, etc. The same essential events seemed to be occurring in a sequence. Kastner recognized a process (class notes, July 26); something was going on in each country that was almost identical to what was going on in every other country. He thought that there had to be some inherent logic in what was happening regardless of future plans (he didn?t know that they were to kill everybody) but it was clear to him that Nazis were removing Jews from the European society.
In addition, Richard Rubenstein writes:
“The process was a highly complex series of acts which started simply with the bureaucratic definition of who was a Jew. Once defined as a Jew by the German state bureaucracy, a person was progressively deprived of all personal property and citizen rights. The final step in the process came when the Jew was eliminated altogether.
The destruction process required the cooperation of every sector of German society. The bureaucrats drew up the definitions and decrees; the churches gave evidence of Aryan descent; the postal authorities carried the messages of definition, expropriation, denaturalization, and deportation. Business corporations dismissed their Jewish employees and took over ?Aryanized? properties; the railroads carried the victims to their place of execution. The operation required and received the participation of every major social, political and religious institution of the German Reich? (The Cunning of History, Rubenstein, p 4).
In agreement with Hilberg, Rubenstein supports the idea of the Holocaust characterized by a highly complex, logical sequence of acts and bureaucracy. Although Adolf Hitler is often perceived as the chief perpetrator, there were others. This notion is clearly demonstrated by the previous quote from Rubenstein. Perpetrators were Nazi party leaders, but also doctors, engineers, lawyers, police, railroad employees, scientists, military officials, salesmen, and civil servants. The Holocaust needed bureaucracy, it needed professional administrators, it needed logistic experts, it needed planning, and it needed specialists. Holocaust is a mass murder in the 20th century.
Nothing good came out of the Holocaust. Nothing simple came out of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators, and practically all segments of German society participated in the destruction process.